Where will Nigel Farage stand in 2015?

After confirming that he will stand for a seat, the UKIP leader is likely to have his eye on Boston and Skegness.

In one of his many TV appearances over the weekend, Nigel Farage confirmed that he would stand for a seat at the next general election, so where might the UKIP leader try his luck? In 2010, he stood against John Bercow in Buckingham, but is unlikely to do so again after only finishing third (despite the three main parties standing aside to give the Speaker a free run) last time round.

UKIP didn't manage second place in any constituency, but there were three south west seats where it finished third: North Cornwall (where it won 5 per cent of the vote), North Devon (7 per cent) and Torridge and West Devon (5.5 per cent). But rather than any of these, my guess is that Farage will look to Lincolnshire, where UKIP is now the official opposition after winning 16 county council seats in the and depriving the Tories of overall control. The party performed notably well in Boston, where it won 10 of the 11 divisions after capitalising on local concern over immigration (the town has been nicknamed "Little Poland" due to its high eastern European population, the largest outside of London). 

As a result, one of the seats Farage is likely to be eyeing for 2015 is Boston and Skegness, where the party finished fourth in 2010 with 9.5 per cent of the vote (its second best result after Buckingham). There were three other Conservative-held constituencies where UKIP received more votes than the Tories on Thursday: Thanet North, Thanet South and Great Yarmouth. Any one of these is a potential target for Farage (the most marginal is Great Yarmouth, where the Tory majority is 4,276).

A study by Electoral Calculus suggested that UKIP would fail to win a seat at Westminster unless it won at least 24 per cent of the vote, but it's worth remembering that the Greens accomplished that feat with just 0.9 per cent of the vote in 2010; don't assume a uniform swing. If UKIP concentrates its resources and builds a local following in targeted constituences, it's quite possible that the Commons benches will acquire a purple tinge after 2015. 

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage addresses the media in central London on May 3, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.